One of the greatest gospel singers of her time, Sister Rosetta Tharpe glided effortlessly between blues-drenched secular and religious material, never losing her sense of conviction or immediacy. One of the most striking aspects to her music, though, was her driving style of acoustic guitar playing, which featured both a strong rhythmic ooompf and an emphasis on lead riffs that prefigure the sound of rock'n'roll guitar by a good decade or so. As a teenager, she played in a family band, touring small churches and religious meetings throughout the country, then in the 1930s she emerged as a solo star, playing at the prestigious Cotton Club as part of Cab Calloway's revue. Tharpe later joined Lucky Millinder's band, belting out some of the wildest music ever heard. A hot-blooded singer in service to the Lord, Tharpe is an enduring favorite of old-school gospel fans across the world, and is often claimed by the rock'n'roll camp as one of the foremother's of R&B and rock... Here are a few great reasons why....
Sister Rosetta Tharpe "Le Integrale -- The Complete Sister Rosetta Tharpe, v.1: 1938-1943" (Fremeaux & Associes, 2002)
Her earliest recordings, including both lively, blues-based acoustic guitar tracks and Sister Rosetta whooping it up while backed by the Lucky Millender Orchestra... These full-band swing/R&B tracks are a revelation: in the early years of World War Two, Tharpe was rocking way harder than most, harder even than many of her African-American contemporaries -- indeed, it wasn't until the postwar "jump blues" boom that the R&B scene really began to match the intensity of her early big band recordings. Of course, I'm sure plenty of gospel traditionalists were scandalized; Tharpe also made these venerable old tunes sound pretty damn saucy and ribald, yet another reason why the rock'n'roll faction claime her as one of their own. Cool collection -- definitely recommended!
Sister Rosetta Tharpe "Le Integrale, v.2: 1943-1947" (Fremeaux & Associes, 2002)
Sister Rosetta Tharpe "Le Integrale, v.3: 1947-1953" (Fremeaux & Associes, 2004)
Sister Rosetta Tharpe "Up Above My Head" (Indigo, 1999)
Sister Rosetta Tharpe "Sing, Sister, Sing" (Varese Sarabande, 2003)
Sister Rosetta Tharpe "Complete Recorded Works, v.1: 1938-41" (Document, 1994)
Sister Rosetta Tharpe "Complete Recorded Works, v.2: 1942-44" (Document, 1995)
Sister Rosetta Tharpe "Complete Recorded Works, v.3: 1946-47" (Document, 1998)
Accompanied by Sammy Price on many tracks, as well as Marion Knight and a couple of songs with the Dependable Boys.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe "Gospel Train" (Universal, 1989)
A modest, 12-song selection, a straight reissue of an old album on the Mercury label that includes a fairly standard (but always inspiring) set of songs. Nice to hear a complete piece of work for once, as opposed to her numerous best-of collections.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe "Gospel Train II" (Universal, 1989)
Sister Rosetta Tharpe "The Original Soul Sister" (Proper, 2002)
A budget priced, jam-packed 4-CD set, with 81 songs of vintage Sister Rosetta recordings.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe "Live At Le Hot Club De France" (Milan, 1992)
Sister Rosetta Tharpe "Live In 1960" (Southland, 1994)
Sister Rosetta Tharpe "Precious Memories: The One And Only Sister Rosetta Tharpe" (Savoy, 1997)
Sister Rosetta Tharpe "Spirituals In Rhythm" (Collector's Choice, 2003)
Various Artists "SHOUT SISTER SHOUT: A TRIBUTE TO SISTER ROSETTA THARPE" (Southland, 1994)
The list of contributors can't be faulted: bluesy-rootsy gals ranging from Marcia Ball, Rory Block and Maria Muldaur to Bonnie Raitt, Joan Osborne and Victoria Williams on the poppier end of the spectrum. There are also some pleasant surprises, such as folk movement doyenne Odetta and '70s cult fave Phoebe Snow, who both hadn't done much for many a moon. The trouble is, the disc doesn't really hold together that well -- the performances are of variable energy levels and veer wildly from style to style. Plus, who can actually hold a candle to Tharpe herself? This lesson is brought home by a song (and video clip) of Tharpe singing "Down By The Riverside," and she naturally blows the roof off the place. Her old singing partner Marie Knight also shows us young'uns how this ought to be done. The thought behind this tribute is nice, but I wasn't all that wowed by the record itself.